Is fencing safe?
As sports go, fencing is very safe. All fencing clothing is safety gear. The mask is made from a strong steel mesh. Low range jackets and knickers are sewn from heavy cotton duct, while more expensive garments are made from high-tech stretchy fabrics. Also, fencers wear a second half-jacket under their fencing jacket. Called a plastron, this piece provides even more protection to vital organs.
What age can I begin training?
We train fencers starting at age 8. The best thing a youngster can do to prepare for fencing is to run around, play, swim, jump and skip like all kids should. Maintaining a high activity level will keep them fit and good fencers need to be fit. Also, anything that improves coordination, like skipping rope or playing catch, will help. These activities require the use of their eyes to control the movements of their bodies will speed up development and coordination.
Children younger than eight and their parents are more than welcome at the MFA. Our Head Coach will be happy to meet with you, explain the sport, show you the equipment, and describe what's happening on the fencing strip. Also, he can show you the drills and exercises we use, which you can take home and perform whenever you like.
We're sorry if your five year old wants to fence and we're delivering what must seem like bad news, but we've seen many kids with strong desire start too young, become frustrated and burn out too early. We want to see your son and daughter fence, well and for many, many years. To do this the best first steps are taken no earlier than ~8 years old.
It is the firm policy of the Madison Fencing Academy that minors will be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian at all times during practice sessions and competitions.
What questions should I ask of a fencing club, school, or program?
Start by asking about the programs and functions of the club. Many organizations listed as "fencing clubs" in the phone book or on a web site have little to do with modern fencing. Some groups are organized around historical weapons and the making and wearing of historical armor. Other groups are involved with "classical fencing."
Once you've found a club that offers the programs you're interested in, the most important consideration is the coach or instructor. Fencing is an intimate and technical sport, and as such, the qualifications and character of the instructor are of great importance. Ask the coach about their training as an instructor, whom they studied under and where they trained. Have they attended recognized courses, such as the USFA's Coaches College? Qualified coaches will have this information on the tips of their tongues.
Also, ask the coach about their student population. For example, how much experience do they have teaching children or the elderly? What is the youngest age they will consider a pupil? How many of their fencers are competitive? Are they successful?
Finally, you should ask about the coach's certifications. In this country, the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) is the certifying body for fencing instructors.
Why learn from a Certified Coach?
Fencing coaches certified by the USFCA demonstrate their knowledge of the sport and their skill as teachers in rigorous written and practical examinations. These examinations verify that the coach meets current, internationally recognized standards in the sport. For 500 years this process has produced the best instructors of swordsmanship.
I've spoken to a coach who's trained in a foreign country. Does that count?
Fencing coaches who trained overseas are quite welcome in the USFCA. The USFCA is the domestic member organization of the Academie d'Armes Internationale (AAI). As such, the USFCA recognizes the training and certification from several international programs. Fencing coaches who received certifications abroad from AAI programs have their credentials and titles fully recognized by the USFCA. Coaches who trained in a non-AAI program must present themselves to the USFCA for written and practical examinations.
What should I look out for? What are the red flags?
Be wary of coaches with international credentials who don't have USFCA certifications. The unscrupulous may advertise international credentials or titles because they're difficult to confirm. If, for example, the coach truly earned a Fencing Master diploma from a recognized international program, their credentials will be recognized by the USFCA. If they earned their title from a good program that doesn't happen to be a member of the AAI, passing the tests should be no problem. Either way, it's easy to check on a coach's credentials. Just go to the USFCA web site (www.usfca.org) and contact the head of the Certification and Accreditation Board.
What are the USFCA's Professional Certifications?
From lowest to highest, the certification levels are:
Assistant Moniteur requirements include the completion of at least 20 hours of individual instruction, teaching lessons under supervision for 20 additional hours, and passing both a skill based practical teaching examination and a written knowledge test. Assistant Moniteurs work under the supervision of qualified professionals. They may lead drills and training activities, teach group or individual lessons and assist in the development of training plans for competitive fencers.
Moniteur is the first professional level of certification, designed to prepare fencers to serve as instructors in clubs, schools or community sports programs. The Moniteur teaches basic fencing skills and techniques effectively in group lessons and insures the safety of fencers. Moniteurs complete both a written and a practical examination. The written examination includes fundamental fencing concepts, basic rules of the sport and safety management. In the practical examination, the Moniteur candidate must demonstrate how to organize a class, use appropriate teaching methods, properly warmup students, use games and drills, teach correct technique and follow standard safety rules. Moniteurs may be certified to teach in a single weapon, two weapons or all three weapons
The Prevot level is similar to the Master level with more emphasis on training fencers rather than other coaches. The Prévôt has proficiency with a variety of teaching methods so that they can train fencers of all levels to compete. They may also train fencers to become Assistants or Moniteurs. The Prevot must be familiar with modern coaching theory and practice at a high level, understand risk management, be able to develop appropriate physical fitness activities and training cycles for their students and be knowledgeable of tournament organization. Prévôt candidates must pass a thorough test comprised of oral, written, and practical parts. A coach can be certified as a Prévôt in an individual weapon (e.g. Prévôt de Fleuret (Foil), Prévôt de Sabre, etc), or can be certified in all three weapons (Prévôt d'Armes).
Maitre (Maestro or Master)
Fencing Master is the senior professional position in the sport. Fencing Masters are expected to be able to prepare fencers for high-level national and international competition and to manage and oversee all activity in their club or program. Fencing Masters complete a practical examination that requires a high degree of proficiency in tactical cueing, the development of a logical progression of actions, development of fencers' strategic skills and recognition and correction of even minor flaws in technique. Also, Fencing Masters are required to conduct independent research and prepare an appropriate thesis on a subject relevant to modern fencing. Fencing Masters should be able to develop Moniteurs and Prevots. A coach can be certified as a Master in an individual weapon (e.g. Master of Foil, Master of Saber), or can be certified in all three weapons (Master of Arms or Maitre d'Armes).
Maestro Charles Schmitter
Mike's first fencing coach and beloved mentor
"I've worked with and learned from many great coaches over the years. I've been honored to study with Bill Goering, Aladar Koegler, and Michael Marx, however it’s always Maestro Schmitter that comes to mind when I think of “my coach.”
-- Michael Garrison